The Gender Pay Gap on Screen

The dominating issue of gender pay gaps in all types of jobs has been persistent for a long time, and I’m talking for a very long time. Throughout history, women have traditionally remained at home whilst their husbands worked but by the seventies, the number of women that had taken on jobs had skyrocketed, with a gigantic pay gap present between men and women.

When it comes to the entertainment industry, women and men have been working for roughly the same amount of time, especially on screen. So why is the gender pay gap still an issue in the 21st century? According to statistics recorded in 2017, a male actor’s average salary was $57 million while a female actor’s average salary was $21.8 million, that’s over half! I know the latter is still a lot of money, but the difference is staggering.

In 2018, the top ten highest-paid actresses earned less than 30 cents for every male counterpart’s $1. Not only this, the list of 2018’s top 10 actresses had a combined fortune of $186 million, and the top 10 actors of 2018 totalled to $748.5 million, if that doesn’t summarise the institutionalised sexism onscreen, I don’t know what does.

You may remember in 2019 when UK Television networks had their salaries exposed, and their very big gender wage gaps. The averages between men and women’s pay were topped by Channel 4’s average of 28.6%, followed by ITV at 16.4%, BBC with 10.7% and Sky at 5.2%, but Channel 5 actually showed that women were paid 2.9% more than men. Due to the backlash these networks faced; UK film organisations became part of 10,000 companies to disclose gender wage gaps.  

Also in 2019, male stars earned roughly about $1.1 million more than their female co-stars despite equal experience and almost equal screen time, and it was found that these statistics were similar to those from 1980. It’s important to acknowledge that these earnings are based on huge Hollywood actors salaries, so it is far more money than necessary, but if you take the millions and imagine it in an office job, there’s still an issue. Moreover, these statistics are mostly based on Caucasian actors’ salaries, so to women of colour, the pay is far, far less.  

Now it’s time for some examples: Ellen Pompeo who is the starring role of Grey’s Anatomy as Meredith Grey was initially paid far less than her character’s male love interest played by Patrick Dempsey, who doesn’t have near as enough screen time as Pompeo, but the actress stood her ground and eventually got a fair wage. Some may say that Dempsey drew in more audiences, or had been acting longer, but Meredith Grey’s character is the heart of the TV show.  

One that might shock you is Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson’s pay gap in Something’s Gotta Give. Both are very established actors who had their breakout roles around the same time, so why was Nicholson paid a percentage of this film’s profits as a secondary role when Keaton didn’t receive any profits from the film? The answer is very simple: people defend the pay gap with misogynistic comments, but if it’s the same job, should it matter?

Fortunately, there are many screen actors that address the gap and fight for equal pay like Patricia Arquette and her iconic 2015 Oscar acceptance speech, and the late Chadwick Boseman who donated part of his salary from 21 Bridges to make up for Sienna Miller’s asking wage.

Overall, if a man and a woman, no matter their race, are working in the same position, they should be paid equally, it’s as easy as that.

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Sienna Norris

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August 2022
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